Tesla is not backing away from its campaign to sell its cars directly to customers in Connecticut. The electric car maker won a small victory within the state after a Connecticut Superior Court judge dismissed a law suit brought last May by the Automotive Retailers Association that attempted to block Tesla from opening a gallery showroom on Greenwich Avenue. The local zoning board initially denied Tesla’s request but it was overruled by the Board of Appeals.
The gallery is not a full fledged showroom. People can come in and look at Tesla vehicles, buy branded accessories but can not purchase vehicles at the location nor take test drives. The decision by the Board of Appeals also specified that Tesla could not install a Supercharger at that location. Nevertheless, CARA objected that the gallery constitutes a miniature dealership located on a street where commercial space is at a premium. It contends having the gallery there puts its members at a competitive disadvantage.
“We agree with the decision of the judge and encourage legislators to contemplate the benefits Tesla can bring the state, if allowed,” Tesla said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that CARA’s efforts, if successful would impair consumer choice, limit economic growth and negatively impact public health. We will continue to educate Connecticut consumers on the benefits of sustainable energy in the meantime, and look forward to a permanent solution.”
CARA downplayed the significance of the ruling, saying it involved a narrow legal issue of interest only to the town of Greenwich. Jim Fleming, president of the dealer association, told the Westport News. “There are several options remaining to continue to ensure that Tesla follows the law, and we plan to pursue them. Today, Tesla could choose to work within the current franchise system that local dealers have invested in. This system creates price competition, maintains good paying local jobs in Connecticut, and advocates for consumers when there is a recall or defect. Allowing any manufacturer to skirt our existing state laws creates an uneven playing field.”
The court ruling may be a precursor to another battle later this year in the Connecticut legislature. Last year it narrowly defeated a bill that would have allowed Tesla to open as many as 3 showrooms in the state. “I think the Tesla bill is coming back this year,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, who helped promote the bill in the last legislative session. He is unsure whether he will do so again this year. “I tried in good faith to find an agreement, but the goalposts kept moving,” he said, referring to an intense and unrelenting lobbying effort by the dealer’s association. Connecticut’s two neighbors, New York and Massachusetts, permit Tesla to make direct sales to customers.